Why do we eat junk food?

Last week I discussed how to find lifelong motivation to exercise and today I'm excited to tackle an equally daunting task: how to fight the urge to eat high-fat, high-sugar junk food and choose to eat well. First, it's critical that you understand why you crave the foods that you do. There are a couple main reason that I will discuss that you can see in this uber-high tech concept map I worked on while writing this article today:

Food Cravings


1. Our Bodies are Built to Crave Fat. I wrote an article that touched on this topic before. Basically, craving high calorie (and therefore usually high fat) foods is a built-in survival mechanism. Our ancestors never knew for sure how long food would be around for so they sought out the highest calories foods to stockpile in their systems in case of famine. Since the process of evolution takes tens of thousands of years to catch up the bodies we have now are still operating as though we are living prior to the advent of reliable food sources.

2. Low-Fat diets became all the rage in the 90's and the food industry retaliated by taking the fat out of foods and replacing it with sugar. Taking the fat out of foods make them taste like crap (fat molecules act as a carrier for flavor. No fat = no flavor) Sugar was used as a sub so suddenly food products were injected with artificial sweeteners to try and mimic the fat that was taken out of them. Here lies the birth of our modern sugar addiction epidemic! People are becoming seriously addicted to sugar as it acts on the brain's reward systems the same way illicit drugs do.

3. We are conditioned from a very young age to associate food with positive emotions. Your parents likely rewarded you with food for good behavior. Dessert, more specifically. From early childhood people start to equate sweets with being 'good'. As adults many people will turn to food for emotional reasons seeking those same feelings of reward and validation.

4. The media bombards us with 'fitspiration' images and an obsession with unrealistic thinness that actually causes cravings. When you watch television your brainwaves enter into a state similar to meditation or hypnosis. You see these images of juicy burgers, decadent desserts and incredible pasta dishes and the parts of your brain that control critical thinking have shut down and those images have now gone straight to your subconscious. Chances are the commercials paired images of their food with positive things: hanging out with friends, being on a date with your significant other,...and now, without begin aware of it, your brain has associated those food items with positive emotions we crave as humans.


Now that you have a better understanding of why you crave the food you do you are better equipped to fight them. 


Tips for choosing the apple over the candy bar.  Years of healthy eating and I've now properly trained my taste buds to crave natural fruits and most candy bars taste like crappy plastic!

apple or candy

1. Eat REAL food. Stay away from Frankenstein foods and artificial chemicals. I don't do 'diets' but my basic eating guidelines are as follows: eat colors, don't drink calories and enjoy carbs and healthy fats in moderation. That's it.

2. Eat mindfully. Do not eat while watching television. How often have you done this just to realize when your food is gone that you don't even remember eating? Set aside time to slowly enjoy your food. The more you stop to taste and savor it the less likely you are to overeat.

3. Remember that you become the food you eat, literally. The cells in your body are made up of the food that you've ingested. Look at that ingredient list of your low-fat diet food ... do you want your skin, hair or nails made up of chemicals you can't pronounce?

4. Think of food in a positive light. Picture the healthy life you are working for and use food as fuel to get you there. Want to be happy, have more energy and live longer? It starts with food. 

5. Eat on a schedule and EAT BREAKFAST. Think back to the last few really bad food decisions you made. Chances are you were starving at the time. I make it a point to eat every 3-4 hours and if I go longer than that I start making bad food choices. I  bring healthy snacks with me everywhere so I'm prepared to keep to my schedule to avoid cravings. Be prepared. If you let yourself get to the point of 'omg my head hurts I'm so hungry' what do you think your more likely to grab, a cup of baby carrots or a bag of chips?




Further Reading:

CNN Health: Why do I crave comfort food?

Huffington Post Healthy Living: Why do we crave the foods we do?

Psychology Today: Finding the motivation to eat more mindfully.

Daily  Mail: Why we crave sugary snacks and not fruits and veggies.

MindBodyGreen: 14 mind-blowing facts about sugar.

What are your tips for making healthy eating choices?